What is Exodus Conversations?
Exodus Conversations is a website that uses the story of the Exodus and the Passover Haggadah (service for the Passover celebration which commemorates the Exodus) as a springboard for a much needed Jewish/Christian/Muslim dialogue. Our goal is to promote understanding among the three Abrahamic faiths, to highlight some of the similarities and differences among these religions, and to illustrate the differences that exist within each tradition, which are sometimes as challenging as those between religions.
The Exodus narrative is important to all three traditions. For Judaism, it embodies the Jewish People’s founding narrative and the archetype for the struggle from exile to redemption. For Christianity, it provides a rich array of symbols that are central to understanding the life of Jesus. For Islam, the story recurs throughout the Qur’an as an example of God’s standing with the faithful and downtrodden against the arrogant and abusive. Beyond this, the story of the Exodus has inspired struggles for freedom around the globe.
Focusing on issues raised by the texts of the Haggadah and the Exodus, the dialogue explores such questions as:
- What are the implications of believing your group is chosen or exalted by God?
- What is the status of women in your tradition today?
- How does your religious community handle issues of dissent?
- Where has your community fallen short of its ideal in its relationship to members of other communities?
- How do you understand God’s rescuing role in history?
- In what ways does your tradition serve as a basis for countering oppression?
In addition to the three scholars’ responses to these and other questions, Exodus Conversations includes a side-by-side comparison of the story of the Exodus as it appears in the Bible and in the Qur’an. To the surprise of those unfamiliar with the Qur’an, this story recurs throughout Islam’s sacred text and tells the same story as the Bible.
For Jews, Christians and Muslims, Exodus Conversations will serve as a tool for new understanding and appreciation of their own and other faith traditions. Its stimulating set of discussion questions and responses by our scholars provide any group interested in interfaith dialogue with rich material to explore year round. Any Seder, interfaith or not, will benefit from this fresh resource to enliven the experience and make it all the more meaningful.
How did Exodus Conversations evolve?
traces its roots to the anti-Muslim hysteria unleashed on 9-11 following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and other American sites. In spite of clear distinctions drawn between Muslims and terrorists by many American leaders and citizens, reports of harassment and abuse rolled in from American Muslim communities. Believing that ignorance of Islam fueled the anger, Ruth J. Abram, the project’s Convener, decided to try to do what she could to combat it.
To that end, she approached Robert Levine, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Rodef Shalom in New York City. With his active and much appreciated support, Abram assembled a group of Jewish leaders who agreed to spend a year studying Islam. Dr. Bert F. Breiner, former Co-Director of Interfaith Relations, National Council of Churches of Christ, agreed to teach the group. At the conclusion of the study year, participants designed and implemented projects to further understanding between Muslims and Jews. Dr. David Arnow, a scholar of the Passover Haggadah, developed a Haggadah which included Jewish and Muslim interpretations of some of the Passover themes. Later, Arnow and Abram decided to expand upon this project and invited two distinguished scholars, Sister Mary C. Boys and Imam Muhammad Shafiq to join them. In 2009, the project was piloted at an interfaith Seder graciously hosted by Joshua Abram and Cristina Azario. This gave the project participants a better understanding of how it might be used. As they continued to work, the idea expanded from developing an interfaith Haggadah to creating a resource which could also serve as the basis for interfaith dialogue throughout the year. Thus, the site has been structured so Exodus Conversations can be used as commentary on the Haggadah for use on Passover, and as a commentary on the Exodus for use throughout the year.
We invite you to use Exodus Conversations to enrich your understanding and to pass it along.
Ruth J. Abram
New York City
How to Use this Site
Download this document for suggestions on using this material to facilitate interfaith dialogue and celebration of the Passover Seder.
The Project is indebted to the Henry Luce Foundation and its Program Officer Lynn Szwaja for seeing value in this effort and providing partial funding. Reverend Chloe Breyer, Director of the Interfaith Center of New York, generously offered to incubate the project, to serve as its fiscal agent and to publicize Exodus Conversations to the Center’s network. John Kudos and Sumit Paul of Studio Kudos brought well-honed sensibilities to the design of the website. Sandra Bowden, Seth Chwast, Noorin Fazal, Judith Greenwald, Bart Gulley, Elinor Holland, Avner Moriah, Zainab A. Khuwaja, Huda Totonji and Deborah Ugoretz greatly enhanced this website by contributing art work. Madeleine J. Arnow contributed invaluable close reading. Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal provided numerous thoughtful comments. Barbara King Lord did a prodigious job of editing. Kevin Childress of SocialNetworks, LLC, has designed and will continue to develop the project’s social media network. Most of all, this project would not have seen the light of day but for the sustained and generous contributions of time and expertise by David Arnow, Mary C. Boys and Muhammad Shafiq.
|David Arnow (Jewish) David Arnow received his doctorate in psychology from Boston University and practiced clinical psychology for many years. He served as president of the New Israel Fund and as vice-president of Human Relations Development for Volunteers at the UJA-Federation of New York. David has participated in a Jewish/Christian dialogue group for more than twenty years. He is a scholar of the festival of Passover and the author of many articles and two books on that subject published by Jewish Lights, Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities (www.livelyseders.org), and My People’s Passover Haggadah: Ancient Texts, Modern Commentaries, (two volumes), which he co-edited with Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman. He recently wrote Leadership Today and the Bible with Paul Ohana.|
|Mary C. Boys (Christian) Mary C. Boys became the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in July 1994 after many years on the faculty of Boston College. A 1978 graduate of the joint doctoral program between Teachers College, Columbia University and Union, Professor Boys is also the recipient of four honorary degrees (Hebrew Union College, 2004; Catholic Theological Union, 2006); The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2011; and Gratz College, 2012). A Roman Catholic, she is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.Boys is the author or editor of nine books and over a hundred essays in journals, books, and pastoral publications. A Henry Luce III Fellow in 2005, the book begun that year will be published in 2013: Redeeming our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations between Jews and Christians. She has been a visiting lecturer or adjunct professor at Claremont School of Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, John Carroll University, and St. Mary’s College in London. She lectures widely, including four lecture tours in Australia.|
|Muhammad Shafiq (Muslim) Dr. Muhammad Shafiq is Professor of Islamic and Religious Studies at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York as well as the Executive Director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College. The Center seeks to promote scholarship and encourages strategies for living peacefully in a religiously diverse world.Fluent in Arabic, English, Pashto, and Urdu, Dr. Shafiq has written over 40 articles and several books, including Interfaith Dialogue: A Guide for Muslims (2007). Abrahamic faiths: Models of Interfaith Dialogue in the United States -A Case Study of Rochester, New York was published in 2009.With an B.A. from Peshawar University, Pakistan. Dr.. Shafiq earned M.A’s in Islamic Studies at Peshawar University and in Religion at Temple University which also awarded him a Ph.D.He is the recipient of numerous awards including a Post Doctorate Fulbright Fellowship (1988), the Mayor’s Renaissance Award, Rochester, NY (2005); and the Presidential Award, Peshawar University, 1974.
For many years, Dr. Shafiq served as the Imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester, New York.
|Ruth J. Abram founded the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the National Women’s Agenda and Coalition, the Institute on Women’s History and the traveling exhibition and book “Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America, 1835 – 1920.” She has published in The Midwest Poetry Review. The New York Times Book Review, History News The Washington Post, The Public Historian, and The Guardian and spoken before the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Conference Board and the Family Service Association of America and appeared on World News Tonight, The Today Show, and National Public Radio among others. She has consulted on historic interpretation for the National Park Service, the National Public Housing Museum, several Shaker Museums, Weeksville, the Gulag Museum, and many more.A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College with an MSW from Brandeis’s Florence Heller School, Ms. Abram has an MA in American History from New York University, where she was a Kennan Fellow. The Aspen Institute, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Russell Sage and Muhlenberg Colleges have all given her awards. She was appointed Commissioner of International Women’s Year by President Carter.
Ms. Abram’s collages have been exhibited in New York City and Upstate New York and are in numerous private collections.
In the Media
Press Release (March 16, 2013)
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